Freedom in Education

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Freedom in Education


a bourgeois pedagogical theory of the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th, characterized by extreme individualization of education and a categorical rejection of systematic upbringing and training, which are based on the suppression of the child’s individuality and the regimentation of all aspects of his life and behavior.

For the advocates of freedom in education, the ideal was the development of all of the child’s strengths and abilities, without any restrictions. These ideas were closely connected with Rousseau’s educational theories. The Swedish writer E. Key, one of the first to promote the free school concept, argued in The Century of the Child (1900) that children should have the right to develop freely. They should be protected from oppression by adults and instructed only in what is necessary for everyday life. The German educators H. Scharrelmann, F. Gansberg, and L. Gurlitt demanded that teachers and students receive the right to freely exercise their creativity and express their individuality. According to the German theorists, pedagogical systems should be eliminated because they discourage creativity in teachers, transforming them into practitioners of a trade.

In the late 19th through early 20th centuries the ideas of freedom in education were reflected in the pedagogical views and activities of advocates of anarchism, including P. A. Kropotkin, as well as S. Faure and P. Robin (France). Developing the idea of an integral (comprehensive) education that would equip the younger generation with a knowledge of the principles of science and with vocational training, Kropotkin raised the question of freedom in education, which would make the child a harmoniously developed individual capable of thinking independently and prepared to take part in public life. Unlike the German individualist educators, the anarchist theorists emphasized the social and vocational aspect of freedom in education, attributing especially great importance to voluntary cooperation among children and to the development of their desire to help each other. M. Montessori (Italy) also advocated freedom in education.

According to the child-centered point of view, which emerged in bourgeois educational theory in the late 19th and early 20th centuries under the influence of the ideas of freedom in education, the spontaneous interests and needs of children should be the basis for all training and instruction. This point of view was most widely put into practice in the elementary schools, where it resulted in an underestimation of the need for organized, systematic instruction and a preoccupation with various types of spontaneous activity by children.

In Russia, ideas associated with freedom in education were developed by L. Tolstoy, who organized a school based on these principles in 1859.

During the Revolution of 1905–07 in Russia and especially after its suppression, freedom in education was advocated in Russia by S. T. Shatskii, I. I. Gorbunov-Posadov, A. U. Zelenko, N. V. Chekhov, and K. N. Venttsel’. They asserted that schools should function on the basis of several principles. Students and their parents should take part in organizing the school. Studies should be structured according to the interests of the children and should be completely tailored to the needs of the individual. All student-teacher relations should be based on mutual trust and sympathy, and teachers should have complete freedom in choosing and applying instructional methods and techniques. These ideas were partly put into practice in the House for the Free Child, a self-governing community of five-to ten-year-old children, as well as parents and teachers. Founded in Moscow in 1906 by followers of Venttsel’, the school remained open until 1909. The ideas of the free school movement in Russia were reflected in the magazine Svobodnoe vospitanie (Freedom in Education, 1907–18).

The ideas of freedom in education were an expression of the dissatisfaction of democratically minded, petit bourgeois intellectuals and some bourgeois intellectuals with the status quo in society. The anarchist educational theorists presented freedom in education as a means of restructuring society, by ensuring the comprehensive development of children’s creativity and intellectual and physical powers, as well as the free, creative educational practice of the teacher.

Marxist-Leninist educational theory rejects the ideas of both authoritarian and free schooling and regards education as the purposeful, systematic shaping of the comprehensively developed individual.


Key, E. Vek rebenka. 2nd ed. [Moscow] 1910.
Venttsel’, K. N. Teoriia svobodnogo vospitaniia i ideal’nyi detskii sad, 4th ed. Petrograd-Moscow, 1923.
Venttsel’, K. N. Dom svobodnogo rebenka, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1923.
Rousseau, J.-J. Emil’, ili O vospitanii. St. Petersburg, 1913.
Scharrelmann, H. V laboratorii narodnogo uchitelia, 2nd ed. Petrograd, 1921.
Svobodnoe trudovoe vospitanie (collection of articles). Edited by N. K. Lebedev. Petrograd-Moscow, 1921.
Dewey, John. Shkola i rebenok, 2nd ed. Moscow-Petrograd, 1923.
Tolstoy, L. N. P ed. soch. Moscow-Leningrad, 1948.
Krupskaia, N. K. “K voprosu o svobodnoi shkole.” Ped. soch., vol. 1. Moscow, 1957.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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